Marcus Semien emerged as a true star in 2019. He slashed .285/.369/.522 with 33 home runs despite playing in a pitcher-friendly home park (137 wRC+). Semien’s walk rate spiked to a career-high 11.6%, he cut his strikeout rate to a career-low 13.7%, and easily set career marks in every power metric. The baseball traveling further than ever certainly helped, but Semien also set new career highs in hard contact rate and average exit velocity.
He was also as reliable as they come for manager Bob Melvin. Semien started 161 games at shortstop and rated as one of the league’s most valuable defenders, reaping the rewards of an elite work ethic which the Athletic’s Ken Rosenthal chronicled in June. Those well-rounded contributions (he was worth 7.6 fWAR, fifth-most in MLB) have Semien alongside Mike Trout and Alex Bregman as finalists for the AL MVP award.
This offseason, though, could present an interesting question for A’s president of baseball operations Billy Beane and general manager David Forst. Semien has 5.118 years of MLB service, meaning he’s entering his final season of team control. MLBTR’s Matt Swartz projects Semien to land a $13.5MM salary in arbitration this offseason. That’s a huge bargain for the production Semien brings to the table, even if one is skeptical he’ll maintain his superstar level numbers next season. That said, it’s not inconsequential for an A’s team that ended last season with a $94MM payroll, per Roster Resource, but is currently projected to exceed $111MM in 2020. A big class of potential non-tenders, as explored by MLBTR’s Connor Byrne in his A’s Offseason Outlook, will surely cut that number down, but Oakland doesn’t figure to have a ton of financial flexibility this offseason.
That could lead to some speculation about Semien’s long-term future. By all accounts, player and organization remain extremely fond of one another, but at last look, there seemed to be little movement on extension talks. That’s not to say the sides will give up on hammering out a long-term agreement, but one coming together seems unlikely. After all, the 29-year-old has little financial incentive to give a hometown discount (and it would truly be a hometown discount, as Semien is from the Bay Area and attended college at UC Berkeley) being so close to free agency. The A’s, of course, aren’t typically ones to top the market on star players.
While Oakland no doubt hopes to contend in 2020, the AL West will be formidable. The Astros will again be heavy favorites coming off a 107-win season, and the Angels are widely expected to pursue the market’s top free agent starters. Perhaps the time is right for the A’s to gauge Semien’s value on the trade market, particularly if they don’t anticipate coming to an agreement on an extension. A Semien trade would be unpopular among A’s fans, but it wouldn’t be the first time Oakland traded a star player in his prime.
Assuming Semien doesn’t settle for less than he’s worth on the open market to stay in Oakland, how should the A’s proceed? Get a deal done with Semien at all costs and build around a likable, hometown star? Make the unpopular move to send him away after he’s fully blossomed, but perhaps at peak value? Or play it out, make a run for a third straight postseason appearance and recoup a compensatory draft pick if/when Semien leaves in free agency?
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